Reports of infection on the rise in countries such as Australia and Chile; mortality rate remains low
WEDNESDAY, June 3 (HealthDay News) -- With more cases of the H1N1 swine flu surfacing in the Southern Hemisphere and outside North America, the World Health Organization is weighing whether to declare a global pandemic.
While the vast majority of infections and deaths have occurred in Mexico (the source of the outbreak) and the United States, person-to-person transmission in now being reported in countries such as Australia (501 cases) and Chile (313 cases), as well as Great Britain, Spain and Japan, according to published reports.
"We still are waiting for evidence of really widespread community activity in these countries, and so it's fair to say that they are in transition and are not quite there yet, which is why we are not in phase 6 yet," WHO flu chief Dr. Keiji Fukuda said during a Tuesday press conference at the agency's headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.
Phase 6 is the highest alert on WHO's scale, representing a global epidemic. In terms of the geographic spread of swine flu, the world is "at phase 5 but getting closer to phase 6," Fukuda said, the Associated Press reported.
The WHO is debating whether to add a second measure that indicates how dangerous the H1N1 swine flu virus is -- rather than just how widespread -- after several countries expressed concerns that declaring a global pandemic could cause mass confusion and panic even though it's still not clear how dangerous the virus will be, the news service said.
To date, the virus has caused 19,273 cases of infection in 66 countries, but just 117 deaths -- 97 of them in Mexico, where the outbreak began, the WHO reported Wednesday.
Since the outbreak started in April, health officials in the United States have said that infections have been mild for the most part, and most patients recover fairly quickly. Testi
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